Monday, 8 December 2014

NOTHING shouts Islam here by Vicky Allen, published in Herald Scotland (All Rights Reserved, Copyright)

There are no hijabs, minarets or prayer mats in Mona Siddiqui's working world. When we meet at Edinburgh University's school of divinity, where she is Professor of Islamic and Interreligious Studies, and search for suitable settings for the photo shoot, we find only heraldic shields, wood-panelling and black and white marble flooring. Nor is there anything that yells "Muslim" about Siddiqui herself. Of course her religion is there, as we sit down for lunch in a nearby restaurant. She doesn't drink alcohol. She eats only halal meat - here, she orders hot smoked trout, pushing aside the anchovies which she doesn't want. But she doesn't wear her faith. Rather she talks it, thinks it, analyses it, examines it, reads it, writes it and lives it.

Islam, she says, is never out of the public focus, and "for all the wrong reasons". "Most people see Islam in terms of conflict," she says. "The only way of talking about it seems to be through the prism of terror." When she speaks at events, many people only want to know about the veil and extremism. Yet most days of her life she thinks about neither. "I'm thinking about other things." Those things are reflected in her new book. Part memoir, part theological contemplation, My Way: A Muslim Woman's Journey, is a very personal book. Intentionally, it is not about politics, but about those issues that preoccupy all of us: "Love, marriage, children."

Siddiqui's conversation is littered with simple, philosophical ponderings, bite-sized thoughts for the day, and reflections on human connections. "The most important thing we do in life," she says, "is cultivate relationships - and that's what keeps us happy and makes us sad."

Her book is rich in such musings, backed up with more complex theology and quotes from culturally diverse figures such as the poets Rainer Maria Rilke and Jalal al-din Rumi. But it also tells her own life story and that of her parents, who came to Britain from Pakistan in the 1960s, with their three daughters, including five-year-old Mona. Although initially unsure if they were leaving Karachi for good, they decided to stay here for their children's education, and became part of the experiment of British multiculturalism.

The book contains colourful descriptions of the family home in Huddersfield, and of Eid, a grand feast her mother always insisted on hosting. "As children and even as young adults," writes Siddiqui, "we just helped out, never quite understanding why we always did the inviting, why we always had to cook so much and why my mother was so insistent that it was bett

er to have guests than be a guest." The Eid feast is a practice she continues with her own family, her husband and three sons. "Otherwise," she explains, "how will the children know what it should be like?"

My Way doesn't shirk the hotly debated politicised issues that revolve around Islam. Siddiqui sets her faith in its historical context, construing the Qu'ran as a text that sees the world through a man's eye, and represents the patriarchal view of its time.

When I raise the issue of the veil, I can sense her sighing inwardly. Islam, she fears, has been reduced to "a dress code". "People," she says, "have stopped talking about so many other things to the detriment of society. There are larger issues: education, gender equality, domestic abuse."

There is a tendency, she notes, to parcel people into categories. "If a woman covers her head that might be considered quite extreme or conservative," she says. "But that girl might be very liberal in other ways." Appearances can be deceiving. In Siddiqui's book, she relates the story of how a Muslim academic told her that some niqab-wearing Muslim women in her university were leading double lives. Many, the woman said, would come into her office asking for the morning after pill.

Siddiqui has never made a habit of donning the veil. Even when she married into her husband's hijab-wearing family and was gifted countless scarves, she declined to wear them. "The family never complained," she recalls. "I didn't do it out of defiance. It just wasn't something that I was interested in." She has occasionally worn a veil out of respect. Aged 18, on to Saudi Arabia where her father was then working, she wore the burqa. In a 2008 radio interview she recalled that, far from finding the garment oppressive, she enjoyed being able to "smirk and laugh and joke about everything underneath that burqa". Back home in Huddersfield, she even wore a long, black mackintosh and head-covering to recapture the "wealth and exotic atmosphere" of the Saudi experience.

Siddiqui, who in 2011 received an OBE for services to inter-faith relations, is perhaps best known as a contributor to BBC Radio 4's Thought For The Day, but she is a regular commentator on Islamic issues in other parts of the media - and remains one of the few high-profile female figures in her field.

Although interested in women's rights, Siddiqui does not describe herself as a feminist. She laughs when I mention the word: "Oh gosh, no. I don't like labels. I don't like Muslim labels, I don't like secular labels." Nevertheless, she shares many feminist concerns. "Things like honour killings, forced marriage, or women not being allowed to have a voice, not being allowed to do certain things: these are big issues," she says. "For a lot of women from Islam even just making their voice heard is a big jihad [struggle]. It means they've gone against so many moral codes."

Siddiqui's mother, who grew up in India, probably had "very few freedoms". "But maybe she didn't see it like that. She was a determined woman so whatever culture she grew up in, she made the best of and took it a stage further." She was also strict with her children. Siddiqui wasn't raised with the freedoms many of her school mates had. She wasn't allowed to go to the cinema (except in daytime), or discos. "You just live with it," she says. "I mean you can rebel against it, but that wasn't something I was going to do. I think I was too close to my mother."

Siddiqui and her sisters appear to have adored their mother, who wanted one of her daughters to be a doctor, one a lawyer, and one a lecturer - which is what they became. Siddiqui also knew she would be expected to have an arranged marriage. People are often surprised that she and her accountant husband were matched in this way. "They can't quite link who I am now with the fact I had an arranged marriage. People have perceptions about what it is - that it's something quite narrow and limiting. But I always say it doesn't matter how you marry, it's what you do after you marry."

It seems to have worked very well for Siddiqui and her husband Farhaj, who have been married more than 20 years. The match was arranged through family friends. She recalls feeling, when they met: "This man will make my life comfortable and I will enjoy my life." On marrying, she moved to Scotland to live with him. "When we married, I felt relief. I was with somebody who understood me. He was almost like a husband and a friend rolled into one."

They were "on the same page quite a lot". They wanted, for instance, to be the primary carers of their children, and not rely on extended family for childcare - instead, using nurseries. They didn't want to find themselves living in different cities because of work. What's striking about Siddiqui's description of their life together, is that their arranged marriage seems the quintessence of a modern relationship. They both work. She does more of the domestic chores, but in the juggling act of nursery, school runs, conferences, time away from home there has been a real sense of shared parenting.

Her sons are now 13, 18 and 20. She does not plan to arrange marriages for them. "I say to them," she says, "if you can find somebody you feel you can make a life with, then just let me know." She has, she says, given them more freedoms than she and her siblings enjoyed. Would it be different if her children had been girls. "Yes. I would have been more conservative."

One of the big cultural decisions she made was to speak Urdu at home. "If you don't know the language you've lost a sense of something." Like her parents, she wants to give her children the best of her background. For her mother and father that meant the best of "the real culture of the subcontinent": not its food and dress, but its "literature, culture, music, thinking". Knowledge was what mattered to them. Her father, a consultant psychiatrist, was a "very well-read man" - and her mother was an avid reader. They made regular trips to Bradford, where they would rake through the Urdu bookshops.

In the book, Siddiqui writes movingly of the loss of her mother. She was in her 30s, had just started a job at the University of Glasgow and was occupied with bringing up her own young family, when her mother was struck by a sudden brain haemorrhage. "It took almost four years before I could wake up in the morning and not feel a faint ache at the front of my head reminding me that she was no longer alive," she recalls. Two years later, her father, who had been already affected by a stroke, also died. He had "sobbed loudly" on the death of his wife. She speaks very inspiringly about these two people, who bonded in the risk they had taken together in starting a new life away from their homeland.

On a visit to Delhi for a family wedding, Siddiqui was struck by the "emotional and physical challenge of how families and couples lived in close proximity, often in the same house". She found the intensity and lack of privacy unappealing. She was also shocked by the living conditions in her father's home village: no running water, no real electricity, hardly any furniture. "I couldn't quite picture him growing up with so little," she writes in her book.

That sense of family and community, deeply enmeshed, is not something she has fostered in her own life. The intensities of juggling work and family life seem to have left little place for "the community". Yet, she seems to perceive this connectedness as something we are losing all the way across society. "We only want to do things in our own little environment. Is that what's leading to so many communities breaking down? Where is the happy compromise? The being part of something bigger while keeping your own space and independence."

She quotes frequently from The Culture Of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch, which describes how "there are more and more single people doing things for our own satisfaction but ultimately feeling less fulfilled". In a recent piece on extremism she theorised that emotional unfulfilment, rather than politics, might lie at the heart of why some are attracted to extremist violence.

My Way is just one small tale in the wider story of British multiculturalism. Siddiqui believes it is the job of minority immigrants, not the host communities, to make it work. Yet she also appears slightly despondent about the possibilities of diverse groups living side by side "meaningfully". "In terms of issues like intermarriage," she says, "there are communities where there is very little movement". Who you are happy for your children to marry, she says, is a true test of how liberal you are. But even she fails a little on this. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't want them to marry within their faith. And that's partly because I know marriage has enough hurdles without adding extra hurdles."

Talking to Mona Siddiqui is a comforting break from the daily media assault of stories about violence and Islamic extremism; a reminder that there remains a strong, liberal strand to British Islam. Who is listening to her? It turns out Siddiqui is well aware of her audience. Whether at conferences, or musing on the radio, she is not, for the most part, playing to Muslims (she has only been invited a Muslim-only conference three times in her life). Rather, she says, she is talking to "white, fairly secular people".

People like me. We, it turns out, are the ones who like her message.

My Way: A Muslim Woman's Journey by Mona Siddiqui is published by IB Tauris

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Why I don't believe people who say they loath Islam but not Muslims - It is psychologically unnatural to claim that you hate an ideology without hating the people in whose lives it is expressed - Andrew Brown

Published in Guardian
Wednesday 5th November
Copyright, All Rights Reserved
It is a trope among people who loathe and fear Islam that their fear and loathing has nothing in common with racism because Islam is not a race, the implication being that hating Muslims is rational and wise whereas hating black people is deeply irrational and stupid.

Some people who claim that Islam is profoundly evil will also say that they bear Muslims no ill will but I don’t think they are telling the truth. It is really difficult and indeed psychologically unnatural to claim that you hate an ideology without hating the people in whose lives it is expressed. Religions, nations, and even races are all shared imaginative constructs (although nations and races have other characteristics as well) and if you really want to extirpate them, you must extirpate the people who imagine them as well.

I remember George W Bush explaining that we were not going to war with the Iraqi people, but with the Iraqi government. Since then, something like a million of the Iraqi people have died as a result of our not going to war with them. The distinction is no doubt a great comfort to their surviving relatives but it’s not very useful for predictive purposes.

Racial and religious hatreds have one thing in common: they are not inspired by the race or religion of the hater, but by the religion or race of the victim. This is clearest in the case of antisemitism, which can appear as either a racial or a religious hatred, or indeed both. What’s constant is that it involves hating Jewish people, whatever the reasons given. Similarly, if you hate black people, you hate them on racist grounds whatever the colour of your own skin, and if you hate Muslims, Catholics, Quakers or Mormons, you hate them for their religion – whatever your own beliefs. So it is perfectly possible for religious hatred to be motivated by atheism and it may be quite common in the modern world.

The claim that Islam isn’t a race and so it is entirely rational to hate and fear it gains its moral force from the implicit claim that there is something uniquely horrible about racial hatred. I don’t think there is, though I see why we assume it: 50 or 60 years ago racial prejudice was an entirely natural part of English life. In order to change that, it was necessary to mark it as a uniquely dreadful and disfiguring condition: racism became a kind of moral leprosy. Without in any way wishing to roll back that progress, it’s worth noting that in other societies and at other times racial prejudice has not been the most urgent incitement to communal hatred.

But if we allow that the crimes of Stalin, or of Mao, were comparable to those of the transatlantic slave trade in ambition if not in duration, they are not excused in the slightest by saying that the most terrible atheist dictators were not very racist at all.

Stalin and Mao would have enthusiastically endorsed Sam Harris when he wrote that “there are some beliefs so terrible that we are justified in killing people just for holding them”, just as they would have endorsed his defence of torturing prisoners.

In the end, the position of people who claim that hatred of Islam is somehow superior to hatred of black people is pretty much like Alan Partridge boasting that at least he’s not David Brent.

Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens: 'Muslim community criticised me for picking up a guitar again' Yusuf Islam – formerly known as Cat Stevens – talks about his controversial return to music

Yusuf Islam – formerly known as Cat Stevens – has rarely been seen on stage since he converted to Islam in 1977. In recent years, however, he has returned to live performing and, with new album Tell 'Em I'm Gone out last month, Yusuf played two sold-out gigs in London this week as part of his European tour.
The British musician has now revealed that his decision to start producing and performing music again led to criticism from some Muslims.
"I was getting criticism from the Muslim community: why are you picking up a guitar again? What's happening to you?" the 66-year-old said in an interview with AFP.
"I say: listen to me, this is part of Islamic civilisation, we have lost our contact with it, we lost our vibrant approach to life and to culture."
Yusuf, who is performing songs from the new album, as well as classics such as Wild World, Moonshadow and Peace Train from his 1960s and 1970s heyday on the tour, said of his dual identity:

"I'm a mirror glass for the Muslims as well as the Western world, which looks at me in a slightly different way, but they are looking in the same mirror."
Yusuf will also return to the United States for his first tour there in 35 years. It comes 10 years after he was banned from the country after his name appeared on a no-fly list – a fact he blamed on mistaken identification.

"I feel very welcome now," he said and described his inauguration into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 as a "significant moment where they kind of remembered me".

"I think it's [the tour] going to be pretty good, I'm hoping," he said.

"One song I do is The First Cut is the Deepest. I try to remind people I wrote that song, not Rod Stewart." Yusuf continued.

When he first converted to Islam in 1977, Yusuf hung up his guitar to dedicate himself to philanthropic and educational work.

He attracted controversy in 1989 when he defended the fatwa issued by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini calling for Muslims to kill British author Salman Rushdie for blasphemy. He later dismissed his remarks as in bad taste, but there are many who still reproach him for not apologising.

After his US experience, two British newspapers alleged that he was involved in terrorism. Yusuf successfully sued them for libel, but the whole experience has left its mark.

"It's always on the knife's edge as far as I am concerned," he said of his relationship with the media. "I can never quite trust anybody anymore."

Everyone, however, is welcome to come and see him perform live. "People who want to remember me as Cat Stevens – welcome. Those who want me as Yusuf, you're here," he said.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Islamic State lacks key ingredient to make ‘caliphate’ work: eunuchs By Thomas W. Johnson and Richard J. Wassersug October 21 (Washington Post, All Rights Reserved, Copyright)

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed Islamic State as a Muslim caliphate on June 29, 2014, with himself as caliph, a term reserved for a successor to the prophet Muhammad. His would be the newest caliphate in a line extending from the Rashidun Caliphate (632-661), through the Umayyads (661-750), Abbasids (750-1517) and Ottomans (1453-1924). Each of these earlier caliphates, however, had a feature that the Islamic State lacks and which may not even be possible for the newly proclaimed “state.”

The Ottoman Chief Eunuch was an influential figure. In this and other caliphates, eunuchs supervised the harem, the princes, the financial affairs of the palace and the mosques, as well as controlling access to the ruler. Photo postcard 1912 (Image 1)

Currently, the Islamic State is more of a marauding horde than functioning state. It operates more like the Vandals or the Ostrogoths of European history rather than any historic caliphate. Its “citizens” are self-described warriors (jihadists) killing men, capturing women and grabbing booty as they go. Many of its fighters are foreigners from Europe, North America or other Middle Eastern countries, rather than locals who are the core citizenry for anything that can legitimately be called a state.
Beyond effective use of social media for recruitment, there appears to be little of the governance that makes this state a true state. The Islamic State’s goal is clear: “purifying” Islam through elimination of competing religious ideologies, whether they are held by other Muslims, such as the Shiite, or practitioners of other religions, such as the Yazidi and Christians.

What is a state without a capital?

While al-Baghdadi has appeared in the Syrian provincial capital of Ar-Raqqah, the Islamic State has yet to establish a proper capital. A true state needs a central place to which taxes are paid and from which laws, regulations and other administrative functions descend. Thus far, funding for the Islamic State seems to come largely from smuggling oil, extortion and bank robbery, and not from taxpaying citizens.

Creating a stable capital will be difficult. With the weaponry the Islamic State has acquired, it can fight a ground war. But previous caliphate capitals had walls to protect their seat of government from attack. Such defenses would be ineffective now. As the recent air assault by the United States and its allies shows, a Topkapi today would be fragile in the face of modern ballistics.

No above-ground capital would be safe for the Islamic State. To protect its control center from bombardment, the caliphate would need to bury itself in tunnels, like termites (or al-Qaeda). But even a buried bastille would need to be some 60 meters down to be safe from bunker-busting munitions like the GBU-57A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator.

Should the Islamic State manage to create a political state with a capital, how closely could it model its governance upon the historic caliphates it claims to emulate? In all preceding caliphates, power was demonstrated, in part, by the number of women the caliph controlled. Hundreds of women were impounded in the palace from which government decisions emanated. Most of the women were not for sexual pleasure, but simply to demonstrate dominance.

At the moment, the Islamic State’s systematic killing of men and taking of women performs as a predatory horde rewarding its warriors more than as an organization developing the governance of a true caliphate. A core question is whether the new caliph will be able to maintain and control the women he acquires as well as his predecessors did. And who will handle the daily governance for the new caliphate to maintain cohesion in the state?

Caliphates relied on eunuchs

All previous caliphates relied on a special class of bureaucrats to provide stability and statesmanship. Those were eunuchs, who were unable to impregnate the women sequestered in the palace. Eunuchs were without family and dependent upon the caliph for support.

For four millennia and through many different Asian empires and caliphates, eunuchs proved themselves to be efficient governors. Their presence was, again, a sign of the power and authority of the ruler.

The number of women and eunuchs in the central palace during the various caliphates could be quite large. The Caliph al-Muqtadi (908-932) presided over a palace that contained 4,000 women, 7,000 eunuch guards and menial laborers, plus 4,000 eunuch bureaucrats to administer the realm.

The Sultana Served by Her Eunuchs, 18th-century painting. (Wikimedia Commons/Charles-Amédée-Philippe van Loo (1719-95) (Image2)

When the Fatimid caliphate fell in 1171, the seat of government had 12,000 members. Only Caliph al-‘Adid and his immediate male relatives had intact testicles. The rest were women and eunuchs.
As long as the Islamic State persists in beheading rather than castrating the males it captures, it has little hope of resurrecting a historic caliphate. Granted Islamic State is already acquiring women, but it has no one to guard them for the caliph and no infertile functionaries to enact the authority of the state.

While it has been less than a century since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, it is clear that a key concept for continuity with the great caliphates of the past has been lost. Simply stated, if the Islamic State doesn’t build a deeply fortified city and start producing eunuch bureaucrats, it will never have the stability and endurance of historic caliphates. The best it can hope for is to be recognized as a 21st-century predatory horde.

It is an academic question as to which is more barbaric: to behead (murder) or to castrate (mutilate). But of the two choices, if Islamic State continues along its current path, it is likely to be remembered like the Vandals – that is, as murderous marauders who get a brief mention in high school history classes.

There is no reason to believe that the state the Islamic State aims to develop will be less barbaric than its fighters’ current “jihad.” But al-Baghdadi will have to change how his followers process prisoners if he is sincere about getting his caliphate up and running.

'Violent' Muslims? 'Amoral' atheists? It's time to stop shouting and start talking to each other The logic of blanket statements falls apart when you’re confronted with the diversity of the religious and nonreligious experience


Lost in the venomous arguments that have recently been flying back and forth between Muslims and atheists – on HBO and on op-ed pages, in the United States and beyond – is just how much these two marginalized, underrepresented groups have in common.

According to a Pew poll conducted this year, Muslims and atheists are the two least favorably viewed religious or ethical groups in the US. Both communities are severely underrepresented in the general population – roughly 2% of Americans identify as atheists, compared to 1% for Muslims. Both face rising levels of animosity from the general public. And both tend to be defined by the loudest voices within their communities.

The media may be saturated with images of Islamic terrorists and suicide bombers, but a 2011 Gallup survey concluded that Muslims are actually more likely than any other religious or ethical group in America to reject violence against civilians. At the same time, the vocally “anti-theist” atheists who dominate the airwaves and the bestseller lists may get all the press, but a 2013 study from the University of Tennessee indicated that less than 15% of atheists fall into the “anti-theist” category.
So why hasn’t there been more dialogue and solidarity between Muslims and atheists? Can’t we all just get along?

The divide has to do in part with our natural inclination to retreat into our own communities or get defensive when confronted with difference. As a result, stereotypes about both groups not only go unchallenged – they become amplified as each side clings to its preconceived notions of the other. While it’s certainly not the only cause, the amplification of this “us against them” attitude has contributed to large majorities of Americans labeling Muslims as “violent” and atheists as “amoral”.
The irony is that when atheists and believers get to know one another, they often discover that many of their values are not so different after all. That is something that we, a Muslim and an atheist, have learned from our friendship – even as we acknowledge our differences and disagreements.

We’re not alone in recognizing the power of relationships to overcome differences. Research shows that simply knowing someone from another religious or ethical group often leads to more positive views of that group. That’s why personal relationships are indispensable when it comes to changing how we talk about religion and atheism. When you know and admire a Muslim or an atheist, it no longer makes much sense to make sweeping generalizations about either group as made up of fanatics or bigots. The logic of blanket statements falls apart when you’re confronted with the diversity of lived religious and nonreligious experience.

When 46% of Americans think Islam is more violent than other faiths but only 37% even know a Muslim, and when atheists remain one of the most distrusted groups in the country, it’s clear that a conversation between these two communities could benefit both. But that won’t happen until we Muslims and atheists commit to spending less time speaking past one another and more time speaking with one another.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Muslims and atheists will suddenly find themselves in absolute harmony. We will continue to debate and argue with each other, confident that our conversations may bring to light as many challenges and contradictions between our communities as they resolve. Pluralism isn’t relativism; it isn’t the erasure of differences, or even its embrace. It is the recognition that differences exist, and that the resolve to engage them is a good thing, a necessary thing.

Nor does it mean that we should only lift up the best in ourselves and others while whitewashing the real problems that exist in both of our communities. There is a great deal of work to do in the Muslim community concerning attitudes about and practices affecting LGBTQ people, ex-Muslims and women. At the same time, the atheist community continues to struggle with fraught debates over anti-theism, sexism and racism among atheists. But as we work to address these problems within our communities, we can also benefit from looking beyond our borders and learning from those outside.
Or we could just go back to shouting at each other on TV.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

New Academic Appointment - Celtic Connections - Scotland and Ireland

Today I have accepted a position at the University College, Cork (Republic of Ireland) as Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Islam. I will be joining and helping shape Ireland's first secular Department of Religions within the College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences from September 2015. I left Scotland in 2009 with no idea how long I would remain in the USA. From a year at Ithaca College and now my fifth year here at the University of Miami, I am grateful to both institutions for their support during the last few years. I cannot express in words how excited I am about returning closer to home, especially in this senior capacity. Many mentors and friends have advised me in the last few days/weeks and I am grateful to them all.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Want to end sexual violence against women? Fix the men. A crisis of masculinity needs to be addressed in order to see a reduction in sexual violence against women.

Published at alJazeera - Aug 13th, 2014
All Rights Reserved, Copyright

The Global Summit to End Violence Against Women in Conflict took place in London in June 2014, with 1700 delegates from 129 countries and 79 ministers attending, drawing much-needed attention to the problem of women suffering sexual assault in war zones.
Yet as I studied the programme's fringe events and followed the coverage in the news, I wondered what exactly a conference in London could truly do, beyond the call to action, to help women in places like Syria, Iraq, or Egypt, where women have suffered systematic rape and sexual assault as a "weapon of war", as summit keynote speaker Angelina Jolie put it.

It's vital to commit to tackling sexual violence in conflict and supporting victims, as the summit's action statement outlined, as fresh conflicts erupt across the Middle East and South Asia. But while the summit stated its aim was to "end the use of rape and sexual violence in conflicts around the world", it didn't give more voice to key elements: honesty about the true origins of the violence - the skewed concept of masculinity in patriarchal societies, which operates in both war and peace - and the concomitant need to confront male perpetrators of violence against women with a prescription that goes beyond the conventional formulae of legal reform and punishment for sexual crimes.

Amanullah de Sondy, assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Miami and author of The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities, identifies a type of rigid, patriarchal form of masculinity in Muslim men that acts out at times in the form of sexual violence against women. "The issue is the global crisis of Islamic masculinity," he says. "Women are finding their voice and position in society through God and this unsettles patriarchy." But De Sondy points out that "the issue is actually not with Islam or its theology". He adds that "sexual violence against women is being challenged by men and women who seek to dismantle these rigid forms through the very foundation of Islam."
This global crisis is being played out daily in Pakistan, where patriarchy has historically been deep-seated and rarely questioned, but at the same time where women are awakening to their rights and responsibilities and claiming them eagerly, using Islamic scripture to justify their choices.

In May, Farzana Parveen, 25 years old and three-months pregnant, was murdered outside a Lahore courthouse because she married out of free will, a right guaranteed to women in Islam; her husband reneged on the dowry agreement with her family, who pounced upon them and bashed her to death with bricks. Ms Parveen was only one of the hundreds of thousands of women who face similar violence because of the notion that women's lives are secondary in importance, disposable by nature to the needs and whims of men.

Hundreds of NGOs, organisations, local and foreign, work to empower ordinary Pakistani women, teaching them their legal, human, and Islamic rights; connecting them to legal aid and financial resources so that they can become empowered and independent. But not one programme or resource could save Farzana because they didn't focus on teaching her male family members that she was not their property to dispose of as they pleased - ending her life when it was of no more value to them, using "honour" as a pretext.  (The global press deemed her death an "honour killing" - a phrase I loathe because it is so deceptive about the real roots of violence against women. Honour is often simply the pretext for conflicts over money, property, family feuds, or just a backlash against the increasing empowerment of women in Pakistan society.)

Out of the 175 events at the Global Summit in London, I found two fringe events that focused on the role of men in ending sexual violence. Care International hosted two panels that highlighted how its projects in both Bosnia and Rwanda are changing the attitudes of boys and men towards women in order to reduce sexual violence against them and turn them into "allies and champions for change."

In Bosnia, the "Young Men Initiative" has successfully changed attitudes by teaching boys and young men through the use of workshops, drama and sport that a "real man" does not have to dominate women or use violence to prove his masculinity. Now, schools in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo are adding the lessons to their curriculum in the hopes that an entire generation scarred by war and conflict will not turn to rape and sexual violence the way their forefathers did during the bloody wars.

Similarly, the Rwanda Men's Resource Center works to "engage men" in the support of women's leadership and rights, the promotion of non-violence and egalitarianism in the relations between men and women, and teach gender sensitivity to generations of young men and boys who have witnessed some of the worst brutality in recent history. And similar programmes and organisations are springing up as far afield as Brazil, Chile and India, recognising that the education and empowerment of men alongside women is the only way to ensure women's security within the greater umbrella of advacement in developing societies.

The organisers and participants of the Global Summit in London had, for the most part, good intentions. But my experience living in Pakistan, where the war on terror has soaked our society in extremism and violence, is that political and military conflicts serve only to strengthen an already strongly-entrenched patriarchy. And today's global focus on empowering women will fail utterly and completely unless it also encompasses educating and reforming the men that live beside them.
I long to see programmes focusing on men like the Care International ones in Bosnia and Rwanda enacted in Pakistan and everywhere else in the world where violence against women is endemic in both peacetime and war. As Amanullah De Sondy says, "Now more than ever before do men have to answer calls that question their masculinity and this is is the crisis to all men, globally." Stopping sexual violence against women is a battle that I believe we can win. But to do that, we're going to have to fix the men - because it's a change in their attitudes and actions that will be the turning point in this war.

Bina Shah is an award-winning Pakistani writer from Karachi. She is a contributing opinion writer for the International New York Times and writes a monthly column for Dawn, the biggest English-language newspaper in Pakistan.

Follow her on Twitter: @BinaShah
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

A few thoughts on the Arab/Israeli conflict

"The biggest issue is that we are being duped to believe what the Arab/Israeli conflict 'is' when infact what we see and hear are actions being taken by political systems that fight and react to each other. Politics is a vicious game on all sides of this conflict. They have very little to do with every day Muslims, Jews and Christians who are stuck under these systems. I am not a 'political system', my understanding of humanity does not come from liberal or conservative political systems, I am a human being who tries to feel the humanity of everyone, regardless of religion. I remain an optimist that every day Jews, Christians and Muslim want to co exist in the Holy land and make it flourish."

Dr. Amanullah De Sondy
Department of Religious Studies
University of Miami

Thursday, 17 July 2014

No Ramadan Gloom and Doom by amina wadud By amina wadud on July 17, 2014 (published at feminismandreligion.con, all rights reserved, copyright)

The first blog I read about Ramadan this year was full of the usual self-righteous pontification that takes this occasion to remind people to do such and such at this or that level. Who is the target audience for such an approach, I wondered? It seemed to operate on the basic idea that Muslims will NOT do the right thing unless someone tells them to. Mostly, though I noticed the gloom and doom of it and I decided then to make my Ramadan focus on joy.

First a quick reminder about the basics: Throughout the 9th lunar month, Muslims are obliged to abstain from food, drink and sexual intercourse during the day. It goes on like this for 29-30 days. There are also points of difference about some details of the fast, like how we determine which day to start. Either we actually cite the new moon, go by advanced calculations of the new moon, or some combination of these two. This leads to healthy chaos at the beginning because no one knows when the first day will, be but must prepare in order to get in that pre-dawn meal, called suhur. I say, healthy chaos, not only because I’m a bit of an anarchist, but also because I like that no one has complete control about such an important decision.

Also of note this year, in the Northern hemisphere, Ramadan started just a few days after summer solstice, which means the day light goes for 16-20 hours—in the heat! Some people observe the length of the fast according to actual day light, others observe the length of the day in another sacred place, like in Makkah. Again, no single decision prevails over all others leaving room for diversity and personal conscience about which option.

There are some exemptions from the fast, with days made up at other times of the year for temporary interferences, like travel, sickness, menstruation. Fasting is not obligated upon those with long term concerns like diabetes. “Feeding the poor” is an alternative to fasting permitted by the Qur’an and practiced widely, again in different forms.

I know what that person was trying to do in that blog. Really, I do. You see, Ramadan is like an annual tune up of faith and devotion. More (of the 1.3 billion) Muslims observe fasting in Ramadan than any other prescribed Islamic ritual. There are also additional acts of devotion associated with the month: personally reading through the entire Qur’an, praying up to 20 units of prayer each night, usually in congregation, called tarawih, and putting your own ego in check over anger and other bad habits.

This year, I thought a lot about what I’d like to call “a culture of fasting”. For although this culture is diverse, it is clear that Muslims are conscious that their fellow Muslims will be fasting, even if they do not observe by choice or necessity. In this culture, even a non-faster wouldn’t invite another faster to lunch! Meanwhile to share the fast-breaking meal, iftar, with family, friends, neighbors, and strangers, even at public and commercial places, is one of the most anticipated pleasures of the observance.

I began my fast awaiting the birth of my grandson in a house with several other adults who were not fasting. So I felt the pang of not having this culture of fasting, except with my daughter who was too pregnant to fast. In my isolation, it didn’t take me long to lose my good sense of humor about making my way to the kitchen at 3 a.m. using a flash light. I missed not having control over my kitchen. It was worse than fasting while traveling, because then it is usually only for a day or two.

A week into the fast a new groove is reached. For me this means greater mental clarity, new insights even to some of the same intellectual concerns. Not being bogged down with much food must make a radical change in the body and the mind. For sure, fasting in Ramadan emphasizes the critical connection between body and ritual. It’s not just about how one feels in the heart, the entire body participates so that whatever is recognized, is intensified. The Qur’an says, the fast teaches self-constraint. A solid month-long readjustment in basic habits brings not only awareness, but appreciation.

In my quest for the joy this year, I met a person who made the best affirmation of gratitude I think I have heard in a long time. It showed me up for the complaining I had been doing about fasting away from my comfort center and with no culture of fasting around me. I saw how I had found fault with being alone, wandering around the house at 3 a.m. with a flashlight.

Then an interesting thing happened. A medical emergency in my family led me to a hospital in another city where I had no recourse except to sleep in my car. At 3 a.m. I got a bag of chips and a bottle of water at the 7-11 and began to chuckle: Had I previously been complaining about a flashlight in a dark house while fasting alone?!

Yes, Ramadan can teach us gratitude; but first we might need to learn humility.

I’m thankful for the lesson.

I am grateful, for a lifetime of work towards Muslim women’s freedom, agency and upliftment. I’m grateful for amazing friends in all parts of the world and the means to keep in touch with them. I am grateful for my family, especially my adult children; all kind, decent, and responsible with a spiritual dedication of their own. I’m grateful they are now parents with generosity and compassion.

This month we welcomed a new member to our family. I am grateful for the opportunity to see him come into the world. I wish him and my family, and you and yours a long and healthy life of prosperity, justice, peace and love abundant.

amina wadud is Professor Emerita of Islamic Studies, now traveling the world over seeking  answers to the questions that move many of us through our lives.  Author of Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective and Inside the Gender Jihad, she will blog on her life journey and anything that moves her about Islam, gender and justice, especially as these intersect with the rest of the universe.

This Ramadan: Valuing and Welcoming Women in Mosques by Sarah Sayeed, published At Huffington Post (17/7/2014)

Ramadan is a month of gratitude, embracing community, of togetherness. Fasting promotes self-reflection and a reaffirmation of compassion and justice. It seems an opportune moment to look inward at Muslim communities and speak about the imperative to restore Prophet Muhammad's legacy, peace be upon him, of valuing and welcoming women in mosques.

Across Muslim-majority countries, North America and Europe, we are quite far from the Prophet's example of welcoming women in mosques. In many parts of the world, women do not attend mosque for congregational prayers. Surprisingly, many people seem unaware that the Prophet did not institute curtains or walls between women's and men's rows. And when it is mentioned, there is resistance. It seems that Muslims, both women and men, encourage the following of the Prophet's teachings in virtually every arena except this one. When it comes to women's inclusion in mosques, they make excuses to differ from the Prophet's practice, suggesting that barriers are "necessary" as a preventive measure against distraction during prayer. But such actions and arguments contradict the Quran's requirement to "obey the Messenger" (Surah 4:80) and to follow his footsteps.

Some who disfavor women in mosques emphasize a Hadith, or saying of the Prophet, that a woman's prayer is better offered at home. Others who support women's inclusion in the mosque give weight to his teachings not to forbid women from worshiping in the mosque. Each "side" puts forward its argument in a binary, as if it could invalidate the other. Yet these teachings are not mutually contradictory, since the Prophet's wisdom led him to tailor his advice to the needs of each person. In addition, it's important to know what the Prophet said, as well as what he actually did in practice, which was to fully include women. His compassion and magnanimity are mirrored in the lack of physical barriers in his mosque.

Reflecting on the misogyny that was prevalent during his time, including routine infanticide of baby girls, it is remarkable that Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was forward thinking, included women fully in his house of worship and gave women an independent choice as to attending the congregational prayer, depending on their circumstances. Recognizing that they may not always be able to attend, he reassured them that prayer in the privacy of their homes was equally beloved to God as prayer in a mosque. He also easily folded them into the congregation when they did attend. Women also had easy access to his instruction.

The American mosque has a unique opportunity and necessity to embrace the Prophetic practice of unreservedly receiving women in mosques. Muslims living as a religious minority rely on the mosque to serve not only as a place for worship but also as a religious school, and a community center -- a multi-purpose space much like the Prophet's mosque. Families connect at the mosque, through prayers, full-time or weekend schools, or other social and community activities. These relationships help weave the fabric of Muslim communities. Thus, mosques bear a burden as well as a responsibility to meet the religious, educational, and communitarian needs of Muslims. They must be open to diverse segments of society, a challenge that American mosques have embraced but need to work harder to fulfill the Prophetic vision of inclusion.

According to a national study of mosques in the United States, 66 percent use partitions, and have been doing so over the past decade. Many mosques with dividers have predominantly immigrant populations, with imams who are not American born, suggesting the influence of cultural practices. But predominantly African American mosques also use partitions, though less frequently. While many may be comfortable with dividers, it is important to note that they are not part of the Prophet's practice.

Women In Islam, Inc. is committed to spreading knowledge on the issue of women's inclusion in the mosque and to nurturing a cultural shift that enables women, men, and youth to experience mosques in the way that Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, encouraged us to do. Beginning the last 10 days of Ramadan, it will initiate a blog to share women's mosque experiences and welcomes submissions on an ongoing basis. This public sharing is not an airing of dirty laundry but rather an opportunity for collective reflection and strategizing, giving women an avenue to contribute concrete ideas about what can and needs to be improved in mosques.

Creating a spiritually whole and welcoming community requires us to work together. When Muslim women ask for their due right to have full access to the main prayer area of a mosque, it is not only consistent with the Prophetic practice, but an act of obedience to the Messenger of God. As noted in the Quran, "the believers, men and women, are protecting friends one of another; they enjoin the right and forbid the wrong, and they establish worship and they pay the poor-due, and they obey Allah and His messenger. As for these, Allah will have mercy on them. Lo! Allah is Mighty, Wise" (Surah 9:71). Once when Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was asked, "What person can be the best friend?" "His reply: "who helps you remember Allah, and reminds you when you forget Him." Insha Allah (God willing) we will hear women as friends who remind us to emulate the Prophet's practice of valuing and welcoming women in mosques.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Most Scots believe prayer can change the world by SHÂN ROSS, Published in The Scotsman (10th July 2014, Copyright, All Rights Reserved)

The majority of Scots believe prayer can change the world, that there is life after death, and that not everything can be explained by ­science.

A report of attitudes towards faith and belief in Scotland also warns of a potential “new ­sectarianism” with a gap appearing to be opening between religious and non-religious people.
Experts recommend setting up a national advisory board to address areas of concern, such as people with no religious belief feeling excluded from public consultations.

The Faith and Belief in Scotland report by the University of Edinburgh was commissioned by the Scottish Government to help councils provide services for people of religion and ­belief. Those described as “people of belief” in the report are those who do not belong to an organised religion.
More than 1,400 people were asked 38 questions relating to current ethical issues.
The major faith groups and the philosophical belief systems of secularism and humanism were represented.

Of the respondents, 66 per cent said there were things in life that science cannot explain.
Some 58 per cent said prayer can have a real effect on the world. Fifty-four per cent believed in life after death, with more people believing in heaven (45 per cent) than hell (37 per cent).
Professor Mona Siddiqui, from the university’s school of divinity, and Dr Anthony Allison, the project’s lead researcher, said the results demonstrated the diversity of perspective and opinion that exists. An example of the diversity was revealed over the issue of same-sex couples with opinion strongly divided within both ­religious and belief groups.

Almost half said that same-sex couples with no religious affiliations should not be allowed to marry in a religious place of worship. Less than a quarter believed they should.
However, if same-sex couples had a religious ­belief, half thought they should be ­allowed to marry in a place of worship. Only 29 per cent ­objected.

Most Scots (59 per cent) felt that their own beliefs were misunderstood by the wider community, with three-quarters saying it was important people learn more about their world view. The report’s authors said Scottish society was becoming more ethnically and ­religiously diverse.

The 2011 Scottish census ­results on religion revealed 54 per cent of people identify with Christianity and 37 per cent with no religion. Those identifying with no religion were also the group seeing the largest growth from the 2001 to 2011 census – an increase of 9 per cent.

In the same period, by contrast, those identifying with Christianity saw a decrease of 11 per cent and most other minority religions either remained the same or showed small percentage increases. However, the report said the short and long-term impact of such demographic changes remained to be seen and it was not known if the trends would continue.

Prof Siddiqui said action needed to be taken to make Scottish society less divisive.
She added: “The issues around religion in public life are creating a new tension and dynamic in Scotland, and it is important that we minimise unnecessary division for the sake of a more inclusive Scotland.”

Dr Allison said the next challenge was getting people to understand each other and talk “to” one another rather than “at” each other.

He added: “I think the findings confirm what a number of people suspect. Spirituality is alive and well in Scotland and takes various forms cutting across the religious and not religious divide.”

Can Islam and Buddhism coexist peacefully in SE Asia?

Postcolonial states from Turkey to China are witnessing a contest for power between political liberals and religious nationalists.

In India new Prime Minister Narendra Modi participated in a religious ceremony before taking office; in Indonesia Islamist parties supported presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, a general with tainted human rights record; in Ukraine Jews are fleeing resurgent anti-Semitism; in Britain Prime Minister David Cameron has asserted that the UK is a Christian country; in Brunei Sharia law is being imposed; Nigeria is witnessing the rise of Islamist Boko Haram; and Syria and Iraq are home to the newly established ISIL Caliphate. All are evidence that religion is increasingly being employed in the public sphere.

In many countries, the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion is being challenged by religious nationalists promoting religious "majoritarianism". Such challenges are coming from the Buddhist majority in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, while in Malaysia Muslims are demanding the exclusive right to use the word "Allah". The resurgence of religion is global and it's not limited merely to Islam. Politicians are using religions for political objectives, rather than merely balancing politics with religious ethics - the fundamental rule of political philosophies.

The current critical state of Muslim-Buddhist relations calls for the development of civil relations between the two religious communities. Positive communication would help Buddhists and Muslims discover their rich shared resources and embark on a dialogical journey to build peace and overcome religious nationalism and fundamentalism. Aside from Hindu India, most of Asia is Buddhist. Thailand has the largest Buddhist population in the world. Southeast Asian Muslims should recognise that while they may call the region "Serambi Mekkah" - the veranda of Mecca, for Buddhists it is the "Mecca", or centre, itself. Myanmar, Sri Lanka, China and Japan are the "al-Azhar" and "Medina" - the intellectual centres - of Buddhism. Hence the importance of Muslim-Buddhist understanding and dialogue for the future of Islam in Asia.

The liberal Catholic theologian Hans Kung once remarked, "There will be no peace among the nations without peace among religions." The ongoing Buddhist-Muslim conflicts in Asia have to be approached with a method of historical critique at the religious and socio-political levels and addressed with pedagogical strategies and strong political will on both sides - otherwise their will be no end to obstructions for constructive Buddhist-Muslim relations.

In my view, the majority-minority model of citizenship - a colonial construct - has run its course. There is a need to address the issue of conflicts from the perspective of multicultural citizenship, not multiculturalism only, for globalisation has brought with it the challenge of acceptance of diversities. Building a positive future requires transcending the past through the development of relations between Buddhism and Islam as civilisations, not as provincialisms. Whether in Myanmar with the Rohingya, in Sri Lanka, Thailand, or wherever, this will help transcend local, regional and international tensions between the two largest religious communities in the Asean region. To realise this, Southeast Asia's Muslims need to take this initiative on their own. They cannot wait for the lead from their Middle Eastern co-religionists, for they live alongside Buddhists in Asia and not the Muslims of the Middle East. Asean Muslims and Buddhists also need to transcend attitudes that equate ethnicity with religion, for the former is local while the latter is universal and diverse.

The history of Muslim-Buddhist interaction is old as Islam and has its positive and negatives aspects. In the case of their 900 years of coexistence in Southeast Asia, though their early relations were syncretic, identities later became "ethnicised". As far as I know, today there is no Southeast Asian Muslim scholar of Buddhism and no Buddhist counterpart who is versed in their respective communities' religious-cultural and lingual exchange, leave alone enjoying an understanding of shared words such as agama/sasana - religion; puasa - fast; hari raya - day of celebration, and even shared personal names, etc. In the face of rising religious nationalism and fundamentalism in both the faiths, there is need to build Muslim-Buddhist understanding through pedagogical and socio-cultural projects that are more than mere tourist symbols.

Otherwise, Asean Muslims from Yangon to Tokyo will soon be faced with the rise of Asian Islamophobia (in fact, it could be here already). Real efforts to build interfaith understanding will also help in the construction of the Asean Socio-Cultural Community, which is an integral part of the region's coming Economic Community. The building blocks are all around us, in the messages of compassion, mercy and love at the heart of all religions.

Asst Professor Imtiyaz Yusuf is a lecturer and director of the Centre for Buddhist-Muslim Understanding, College of Religious Studies, Mahidol University.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Islamophobia in the Media?

"You want to talk about terrorism, let's talk about terrorism and let's be prepared. But let's not prepare the American people that all terrorism that happens around the world comes from the Muslim community. I was in New York during 9/11, I could have been in those towers. If you want to combat terrorism you need to work within the Muslim community which includes moderate Muslims which is nearly every Muslim in this country. But to create them as the other and make over exaggerations about these potential attacks that haven't happened is not the way you combat terrorism." Linda Sarsour

Friday, 20 June 2014

BBC Radio Scotland
Thought for the Day - Friday 20th June 2014
Dr. Amanullah De Sondy
University of Miami ~ Department of Religious Studies

World Cup fever continues to strike. I’ve been following some of the matches, including last night’s, and watching how significant this event is globally. Just the other day an American news piece asked - what is the most important city to the world cup? Rio? Sau Paulo? The city was in fact Sialkot in Pakistan which has produced all the footballs for the World Cup. The city was also home to my parents before they moved to Scotland in the 1950s.

I sat watching in amazement as Sialkoti women, most of whom were fully veiled, were seen hard at work making and testing footballs. I wondered how many stereotypes this short news piece would have crushed in the minds of those watching. But the story is not all positive, a few years back there were accusations against the Sialkoti manufacturers of child labour. This seems to have been rectified but there is now discussion about how little the workers are paid in relation to how expensive the footballs are.

We are all connected to the aspirations of a good life that children and women in Sialkot have. A colleague wrote a book a few years ago that I, as a Muslim, could also identify with. It was about shopping and Christianity and how buying and selling in our connected world required careful thought on helping those less well off.

Thinking about upholding goodness is an ethical duty obligated on every Muslim, in work and play. The pomp and glory of big events often hide a behind-the-scenes reality that I think many of us don’t want to delve into. There is competition and the chance to connect across borders but there are also real lives, harsh realities and sometimes challenges to our stereotypes. Balancing our fun and play with values-added is the challenge in a world that connects us all.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

BBC Radio Scotland
Thought for the Day
Tuesday 10th June 2014
Dr. Amanullah De Sondy

The weeks of speculation are finally over, and we all now know France’s Amelie Mauresmo is Andy Murray’s new tennis coach. Reading the commentaries, it’s interesting to see the reaction to the news of a woman coaching a man. In response Murray has clearly and quite brilliantly stated that he was coached by his own Mother, Judy Murray, till the age of 17, and that he’s always felt that he’s had a female influence on his tennis career.

I have just returned back from Miami to visit my own Mum for a few weeks, and reflecting on Murray’s decision made me think about how influential my Mum, as well as other women teachers have been in my life.  ‘Paradise lies at the feet of your Mother’ according to one prophetic tradition in Islam -  and in another story from that time, the prophet Muhammad is asked, ‘who merits their finest treatment’, to which the prophet states, ‘your mother’. He repeats this three times and only then does he say, ‘your father’.

Our closest biological bond from birth is with our Mothers – and for many of us, that’s also where we learn our earliest lessons–whether it’s sharing toys, tying our shoelaces, or playing tennis. Yet, the older we get and the more of society we’re exposed to, we start getting hemmed into categories based on our gender. This can be quite restrictive – the usual macho verses feminine stereotypes don’t quite allow us to be everything we can be. As an academic and teacher, I can see how damaging it is for young people, or in fact a person of any age, to place such limitations on themselves. I find Andy’s attitude refreshing – he’s chosen the best person he can learn from at this stage in his career – to be the best player be can be. And whatever our jobs or hopes, we all deserve to be the best we can be.  

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

U.S. Diplomat Becoming Something Of A Celebrity In Pakistan

WASHINGTON — In a first for American diplomacy, a U.S. diplomat performed on the inaugural season of Pakistan Idol in April. 

Phillip Assis, the Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. consulate in Karachi, sang on stage on national television during the Pakistan Idol semifinals last month, performing alongside the semifinalists.
“They had never had a foreigner on,” Assis, who goes by the stage name Phillip Nelson when he’s performing, said in a phone interview from Pakistan. “It was exciting to be on an authentic Idol show.”

Pakistan had its first official version of the Idol franchise this year. The embassy reached out and said, “We have a real live singer here if you’re interested in having an American on the show,” Assis said. A few months after the initial contact, Assis was booked to perform.

Assis, 48, a native of Portland, Oregon, has been singing and playing the piano all his life and “always had a passion for bringing people together culturally and forming bridges between cultures,” he said. He was diagnosed with cancer after graduating from Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies in 1996, an experience he credits with making him realize that “tomorrow’s never guaranteed, and I always dreamed of doing more with my music, and that spurred me on.”
Assis previously did tours in Guyana and in the Vatican before coming to Karachi. His next tour will be back in Washington, where he has been invited to perform at a celebration for Pakistan’s independence day.

In Pakistan, Assis has been involved in other musical projects, including recording a song in Pashto, the video for which became a hit locally. Though he doesn’t speak the local languages, Assis has learned to sing in them phonetically.

“I’m lucky that I have Pakistani colleagues plugged into the cultural field here, so that’s how the connections were made,” Assis said.

The embassy’s press secretary Andrew Armstrong said that Pakistan Idol faced “all kinds of skepticism that they could even pull it off,” since auditions were held all over the country, even in remote or dangerous areas.

“It was a cool thing for us to have Phillip be a part of because it builds a different narrative,” Armstrong said.

Assis said he does encounter Pakistanis who recognize him from the performance and the song he did previously.

“People have seen the clip, they’ve seen the song, and people are very excited about it,” he said. “They mostly are very excited to — happy to see that I’m here and mostly astonished.”
“People do want their picture taken with me all the time but they want that with all foreigners,” Assis said with a laugh.

A former U.S. diplomat in Pakistan, Shayna Cram, also had some musical success in Pakistan before Assis’ arrival. She recorded a song in Pashto about Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl who was shot by the Taliban and who has become an advocate for girls’ education.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Honey Maid: Love

Mona Siddiqui will give a series of lectures and participate in a concluding symposium. This third lecture is From the Feminine to Feminism: Women in Islamic Thought and Literature.

Conversations about women and gender related issues have become mainly about rights and justice. Diverse feminist perspectives highlight the reality of women's lives in many parts of the Islamic world and either critique patriarchal structures or explain Qur'anic verses according to 7th century contexts. Yet, this socio-historical emphasis has almost eclipsed the variety of images of the feminine which are also to be found in Islamic thought, literature and poetry. Is the reality of women's lives somewhere between both struggle and ideals, the feminine and the feminist?

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Rumee Ahmed - "Finding the Ethical in Islamic Law"

Rumee Ahmed - "Finding the Ethical in Islamic Law" from Ali Vural Ak Center for Global I on Vimeo.

Islamic legal ethics are found in complex relationships between the Muslim community and Islamic source texts, theology, exegesis, jurisprudence, and legal theory. Legal ethics cannot be divorced from these interconnected relationships, so that proposing a change in law requires corresponding changes in multiple related Islamic sciences. Without these corresponding changes, a new law cannot be deemed 'ethical'. Through a case-study of prisoners of war, this presentation will explain the way in which Islamic legal ethics are conceived and how legal change occurs in the Muslim community so that it is both 'religious' and 'ethical'.

Rumee Ahmed (PhD, University of Virginia) is Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of British Columbia, in the Department of Classical, Near Eastern, and Religious Studies. His research interests include Islamic law, exegesis, and theology, and is heavily-engaged in text-study across traditions. He is co-editor of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Islamic Law (Oxford University Press), and the author of Narratives of Islamic Legal Theory (Oxford University Press, 2012), which explores the ways in which Muslim jurists use the genre of legal theory and the language of law to argue for competing grand narratives about how the God-human relationship ought to function in society.

Recorded on March 21, 2013

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Times Higher Education Review: March 20th 2014

Julia Droeber praises an interrogation of the image of the Muslim man

Masculinity, so they say, is in crisis. The notion of a crisis in (Western) masculinity appeared in the 1990s, positing that because of the impact of feminism, old certainties about masculinity had become obsolete and men no longer knew what a “real man” should be like. This argument has been the subject of scholarly critique since then, but it continues to have currency in everyday discourse.

The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities takes up this idea, arguing that masculinity in the Muslim world is also in crisis. This crisis is the result of the existence of multiple masculinities in Muslim societies on the one hand, and of an influential discourse about a singular kind of masculinity on the other.

Amanullah De Sondy, an Islamic studies scholar based in the US, argues that today many Muslim men struggle with the perceived gap between what is considered the ideal “Islamic man” and the lived experiences of being “Muslim men”.

Here, De Sondy explores the heterogeneous nature of Islamic and Muslim masculinities, beginning with what can be termed the dominant or “hegemonic” masculinity reflected in religious, political and everyday discourses across the contemporary Muslim world. He traces it in the works of Syed Abul A’la Mawdudi, an influential 20th-century Pakistani theologian. Mawdudi’s construct is the archetype of man the breadwinner and woman the housewife, with the family as the only basis of social structure, built around sex segregation and traditional gender relations. This notion has been emphasised and disseminated by members of the Islamist current that has a presence in all Muslim societies to a greater or lesser extent. Living in a Muslim majority society, and as coordinator of my university’s women’s studies programme, I am confronted with this worldview on a daily basis. It is alive and well.

De Sondy interrogates this image of the Muslim man on various fronts. He explores what Muslim feminists have to say about it and argues that while they reaffirm the importance of the family, they try to dismantle gender hierarchies through exegesis of the Koran and people’s experiences. Indeed, even in the Koran, we find that there is no one single masculinity.

Sociologist R. W. Connell’s full hierarchy of masculinities (hegemonic, subordinate, marginalised and complicit) can be found in the lives of the most important prophets who appear in the Koran. De Sondy’s example of the 19th-century Mughal poet Mirza Ghalib is instructive, and shows how his hedonism did not interfere with his religious beliefs even though it caused him serious troubles with co-religionists who considered him un-Islamic. In fact, De Sondy argues that this is the situation many Muslim men find themselves in today, being forced to consider themselves secular because their understanding and lived experience of masculinity does not coincide with the dominant discourse. Sufism provides further grounds for questioning a single Islamic masculinity, as it often defies socio-cultural conventions and ideals, such as the family, and emphasises the relationship with God above all else.

The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities shows how any notion of Muslim or Islamic masculinity is always constructed against a number of “others” – women, the West and God. In a sense, the discursive ideal of an Islamic masculinity that predominates in many parts of the Muslim world today is largely constructed against the frameworks of stereotyped Western masculinities on the one hand and femininity on the other. Criticism of this concept frequently invokes the relationship between humans and God, in which there is no place for gendered hierarchies.

This is an important work for those interested in gender relations in Muslim societies. I only wish that my students could read English because this work would help them to explore a broader range of gender constructions without the (fully justifiable) fear of being labelled un-Islamic.